Start thinking of your customers as characters in your brand story

Everyone experiences their life in ‘story mode’, understanding, recording and interpreting their ‘story’ differently. We store these narratives in our memories ready to share when the opportunity arises. No two people will re-tell the same story in the same way, each recounting their own version of what happened.

People are hard-wired to respond positively to stories, being drawn to their beginning, middle and end. Whilst we read, watch or listen to a story as it unfolds, we do our best to predict what will happen next, often filling in any gaps with details or feelings taken from our past experiences.

So what does all this have to do with building a brand? Each brand has a story, one that is in constant evolution. Marty Neumeier, author of the 2002 book The Brand Gap explains “When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand”. A brand is therefore shaped in part by the customers who interact and experience the brand – sharing their experience of the brand.

When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling, a company can be said to have a brand.

Marty Neumeier

With this in mind, rather than simply viewing customers as the audience, start thinking of them as characters inside your brand story. Build your brand story around these characters. Start to think about the plot and the characters place, something they lack, something they need right now, a problem they have, a memory they have, something they believe or wish for. Where is your character right now? What are they doing at this very moment? Or, if they are already a customer, where are they in their journey?

Developing your brand characters
The seminal Russian character actor, Konstantin Stanislavski noted seven questions you must answer about your character:

  • Who am I?
  • Where am I?
  • When is it?
  • What do I want?
  • Why do I want it?
  • How will I get it?
  • What do I need to overcome?

Nike have long believed that storytelling is a far more effective strategy for brand building than using features and benefits to sell their products. Nike co-founder, Phil Knight poses the question “Why do people get married—or do anything?”. He continues, “Because of emotional ties. That’s what builds long-term relationships with the consumer, and that’s what our campaigns are about. Our advertising tries to link consumers to the Nike brand through the emotions of sports and fitness. We show competition, determination, achievement, fun, and even the spiritual rewards of participating in those activities.”


© Nike – ‘Find your Greatness’ campaign
© Nike – ‘Find your Greatness’ campaign
© Nike – ‘Find your Greatness’ campaign

US writer and screenwriter Claudia Johnson talks about developing three-dimensional characters by asking deeper questions;

  • What do I love?
  • What do I hate?
  • What do I fear?
  • What do I believe?
  • What do I value?
  • What do I want?
  • What do I know about?
  • What people have made a difference in my life?
  • What discoveries have made a difference in my life?
  • What decisions have made a difference in my life?

Use Johnson’s method of character development on your own customer personas. Examine the insights. Share them with your creative agency. Allow them to use the character traits and situations to develop new marketing ideas.

Dove Real Beauty campaign is a great example of how a brand uses real, complex characters and address real-life challenges as part of their storytelling. The results were outstanding, with sales for Dove jumping from $2.5 to $4 billion during the campaign’s first ten years. Dove bars became the number one preferred soap brand in the U.S. and Unilever’s best-selling product company wide.


© Dove – ‘Real Beauty’ campaign
© Dove – ‘Real Beauty’ campaign

Understanding people on a deeper level allows us to learn how they would make decisions. The goal is to understand how they form the opinions they hold, what their passions are and what motivates them to take action.

By placing your customers as characters in your brand story, you can more accurately see their role inside your brand – not just as buyers of your product, but as key contributors in your success story.

Jon Scott


Jon Scott

Creative Thinker & Founder

Jon is Creative Thinker & Founder of Thinking loud & clear. Jon helps build strong brands that create positive change. That positive change might be increasing membership, increasing customer loyalty or gaining a competitive advantage.

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